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ISL: Leveraging Logistics to Carve Its Niche

From garage to government, start-up distributor finds success in specialization

In 2017, MDM is recognizing distributors that are innovative in their approach to their markets. Virginia Beach, VA-based industrial distributor Incredible Supply & Logistics was founded in 2010 in Chris Faison’s garage. The company leveraged its logistics expertise to carve out a successful niche serving the government and defense contractors.

2017 MDM Market Mover

Distributor: Incredible Supply & Logistics
Headquarters: Virginia Beach, VA
Leadership: President Chris Faison
Details: How industrial distributor ISL went from selling out of the founder’s garage in 2010 to a critical supplier to the government and defense contractors.

The immediate aftermath of the Great Recession may not seem like a great time to start a new company, but after a decade of working for a national distributor, Chris Faison did just that. He left his position as a branch manager and founded Incredible Supply & Logistics in his garage in Charleston, SC.

“I saw the opportunity,” Faison said. “I could do two things: I could start a company, and I could provide a service that’s going to support our troops.

“I just never looked back.”

Faison founded ISL in 2010 to fill what he saw as a gap in serving overseas military contractors effectively, in particular around providing parts and materials for mine-resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles.

“When you think about these vehicles that these companies build, they’re made to protect the troops,” he says. “But there were hundreds of these vehicles sitting over there collecting dust because the manufacturers were too busy to ship parts.”

And many of the companies that were bidding on these projects didn’t have the logistics expertise to get the right parts in the right packages to the right people on the other side of the world where these vehicles and products were being used. 

“The federal system takes long enough just to get an award placed or get a purchase order placed, so these guys are just sitting around waiting for their parts. There’s nothing worse than them getting the wrong thing then,” Faison says.

But as with any government-related contract, cost is also a factor. Defense contractors look for suppliers (distributors or manufacturers) who can get them the product the quickest and at the best price, he says, which meant that the new distributor also had to come up with a cost-effective model to meet all the requirements and live up to the promises they made.

“With the federal government, they don’t care where you are, and they don’t actually want to see anybody,” Faison says. They’re not allowed to take sales calls for products. Instead all solicitations and biddings must go through the federal system for award management (SAM).

So ISL doesn’t have any outside salespeople. Instead, the inside sales team manages accounts via email and phone. And while the company has moved out of Faison’s garage to a brick-and-mortar location in Virginia Beach, its small size has allowed it to maintain very low overhead.

It also allows the company to be nimble, another quality valued by defense contractors serving in a fluid landscape. “They’ll need to buy MRO supplies one day, the next day it could be tactical supplies, the next day it could be fleet,” Faison says. “It changes from day to day depending on what program they’re supporting. We’re the guys that have figured out how to source any of the items they need. We source that bill of materials from top to bottom and make it easy for them to procure.”

Order changes don’t have a long approval process to go through, and everyone in the company is cross-trained to step in where they’re needed.

In addition, the company considers the manufacturers they buy from as customers. “Early on we realized that we needed to be calling on manufacturers as much as we did our customers, and we needed to provide our value-added pitch to these manufacturers,” Faison says. Core to that value-added pitch is the ability to grow share with defense contractors and the government and the willingness to share data about what is being sold and where.

“We can handle the compliance documentation for them (for government accounts),” he says. “We can show them how they can grow their sales.” It’s a win-win for everyone.

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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